Posts Tagged With: monty python and the holy grail

The Grail of Holiness

As is customary with my video postings, I suggest you watch this first. Then we’ll talk. Go on, I can wait. Or you can just watch it and ignore the commentary below; I’m good with that.

Emily and I are halfway through the Key to Time series. Thus far we’ve seen Ian Cuthbertson set up a con for a despotic military tyrant, and we’ve watched Bruce Purchase bellow at the Doctor. Last weekend we got to ‘The Stones of Blood’, in which the Doctor visits the Rollright Stones and bumps into an elderly (but feisty) archaeologist and fends off an ancient demonic entity, while Mary Tamm falls off a cliff.

If you’ve not seen ‘Stones…’ I don’t want to give too much away, but there is a scene later on set on board a spacecraft in which the Doctor and Romana bump into Tinkerbell and one of the other fairies. Said fairies – actually justice machines acting as a kind of disembodied judge, jury and executioner – are there to provide a comic relief of sorts, although there is a sinister undercurrent to their banter. They play a crucial role in the story, but it is in the first encounter with the Doctor and Romana that the seeds of this video were sown. Because as we watched the two Time Lords sneaking away up the corridor, leaving the two Justice Machines talking to thin air until they realise what’s happened, I instantly recalled the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when the three-headed knight turns to devour a now absent Sir Robin, only to declare “He’s buggered off!”. (I found out later that Gareth had exactly the same thought.)

It’s one of my favourite lines in the film, along with Tim the Enchanter and the oft-quoted “You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you”. But Saturday night saw my head in a flurry, joining dots and making connections. Sleep was slow to come and broken. Because this needed to be done, but why stop there? There are other Doctor Who / Monty Python mashups, of course. Someone has rather cleverly stuck a ring mod on John Cleese’s French Knight and then pasted the .wav files into ‘Dalek’. It works rather well. But something told me that Classic Who would work best here, so that’s where we started.

The first problem you have is the sheer wealth of material. There are certain characters and scenes that cry out to be included, and as much as the Knights Who Say Ni irritate me (when you have a friend who does the entire scene over and over, on busses and at parties and in the pub, it tends to lose its appeal) they had to go in. So, too, did the flying rabbit. But when it comes to matching this up with Doctor Who there’s an abundance of exterior shots on bleak moors and masked characters who can be easily redubbed. So I stuck with what I knew best, which was Baker.

The rabbit scene that opens was about the first thing I did. Both this and the Camelot ‘model’ near the end were almost afterthoughts designed to vary the routine a bit – three minutes of redubbed characters can get a bit tedious, even if they’re all from Monty Python. Frustrations kicked in when I was doing the guards outside Swamp Castle – considering how much running there is in Doctor Who, it was almost impossible to find one of Tom Baker running towards the camera in an exterior setting, with the exception of the shot in ‘Terror of the Zygons’, which wasn’t really long enough and which in any case I’d already used. So you have a bit from ‘The Deadly Assassin’ instead, and I suppose it works well enough.

The scene in the dungeon with the sinister monks is from ‘The Masque of Mandragora’, and actually consists of two separate episodes – Hieronymous never addresses Sarah Jane in this manner, but the ‘sacrifice’ exchange was just too good to leave out. Similarly, I’ve wanted to do something with Magnus Greel ever since I first saw ‘The Talons of Weng Chiang’ a few years back, and both this and the ‘Stones of Blood’ interrogation were drawn up in a similar manner. Less is more here, which is why they’re all quite short. The whole thing could easily have been double its current length, but I’m trying to reign it in, because it’s easier to hold people’s attention when you’re not waffling (a lesson I really should learn when I’m writing).

And the song at the end? I needed something to finish, but really didn’t want to include the whole thing, so you get a heavily edited version. It draws on the really quite brilliant Star Trek version as its inspiration, although I wasn’t nearly so clever (on purpose; jump cuts would have thrown off the pace).

There is a better version of this waiting to be made – one that includes more Classic Doctors, more appropriate footage and some expanded dialogue. One day I may even do it myself. But this came together in a day, allowing for appropriate screen breaks and childcare duties, and that works in its favour. Ni!

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Categories: Crossovers, Videos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

There are some who call me Tim

If you ask most people, they’ll tell you that Life of Brian is a better film than Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s clever and sharply observed where Holy Grail is anarchic and silly. It combines a devastating attack on organised religion with memorable characters and some laugh-out-loud gags. It’s orderly and impeccably structured, whereas Holy Grail culminates in one of the biggest let-downs in the history of cinema (it may be funny, but we still feel like we’ve been cheated a bit). Life of Brian never really feels like surrealism; Holy Grail seldom feels like anything else.

For all that, Holy Grail is my favourite. I was fourteen when I watched it and the Pythons’ uproarious humour had me in stitches. I am one of these boring people who can quote entire scenes off the cuff (although I endeavour to avoid doing this at parties) – a film has to be seriously good to give me the motivation to commit it to memory. I love its sketch show feel and the way it builds up the balloon of Arthur’s grandiose pomposity only to periodically shoot it down, or prick it by the beak of an unladen African swallow. By contrast, I saw Life of Brian when I was an irritating student and my response, after all the hype, was “Meh”. I suspect seeing it these days, in a time when the Church more than ever resembles the institution that Cleese parodies in his People’s Front of Judea sequence, would force me to re-evaluate it. Still, for whatever reason it’s never had the same place in my heart.

Another film I saw in my irritating student days was Excalibur, which we watched as part of a module on film, TV and literature I was doing as part of my English degree. I remember discussing the religious symbolism, Nicol Williamson’s amazing performance as Merlin and that wonderful sequence where a rejuvenated Lancelot comes galloping into the fray to assist a doomed Arthur – but what struck me most was how Excalibur, despite the fact that it was made some seven years later, always seemed to be the film that Holy Grail was parodying. I’m sure that there are other cinematic tales of Arthurian legend that formed the source of the Pythons’ inspiration, but that’s still the way it feels – much like This Is Spinal Tap was a piss-take of Rattle and Hum, a few years early.

The fact is that Holy Grail contains some splendid, dramatic dialogue, which is usually followed by an absurd visual gag or ludicrous animated sequence. It is therefore ripe for a trailer mashup. Resequenced trailers are nothing new: Shining¬†arguably planted the flag, all those years ago, and if it wasn’t necessarily the first it was at least the first to go truly viral. The folks who reworked Kubrick’s macabre masterpiece into an uplifting feelgood drama (appropriately scored to Peter Gabriel) opened a floodgate for a torrent of imitations, some of which worked better than others – the Brokeback Mountain stuff, for example, was funny for a while but quickly became irritating. Nonetheless, trailer mashups are still very popular: the ready availability of video editing software has made it easy to do and there are a lot of talented people out there who can spot where a truly miserable film can be remade into a romantic comedy, or a musical can become a horror movie.

So it was inevitable that I’d jump on the rickety bandwagon at some point. This formed in my head over the space of a couple of months and then came together on screen fairly quickly. I had few rules, except that it had to include certain key lines, it had to end with that battle on the hill, and it had to be scored – predictably but inevitably – to ‘O Fortuna’. Reimagining Monty Python and the Holy Grail as a serious, overblown epic wasn’t a new idea; there are several of them on YouTube already. Still, this one was mine. And I think it turned out reasonably well…

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